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Assessing the Falcons’ immediate and secondary draft needs as offseason begins

Goober Pyle

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With the Falcons’ 2019 season wrapped up, the front office is now turning its focus to the upcoming NFL Draft.

There are a number of areas to address, whether it be through the draft or free agency, which will be important to the long-term health of the franchise. Atlanta is positioned to select 16th overall and could go in a number of directions with its first pick. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said Monday that the scouting department already has met to put together its 2020 draft board.

“We’ve set the board, a light set right now, but we’re in a good spot,” Dimitroff said. “Guys are out there churning it out during the All-Star games, All-Star season, and we’ll come back in February and really focus on the position stacks. Again, this staff is — obviously, they’re encouraged, continue to be encouraged by being with the same staff and really honing in on what we’re looking for in the specifics at the position, which is in team-building and the elements of scouting and the nuances of scouting. That is a very important thing, and to be on the same wavelength is massively important. I know that they’re encouraged by that.”

Here’s a closer look at the organization’s immediate and secondary needs heading into draft season.

Immediate needs

Edge rusher

The Falcons’ top pass-rushing defensive ends in 2019 were Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley. Beasley is set to be a free agent, and McKinley is entering his fourth season with it being uncertain whether the team picks up his fifth-year option. In addition, Adrian Clayborn and Steven Means are scheduled to be free agents. With these factors in mind, it’s easy to presume that edge rusher might be the primary position of need to attack in this year’s draft.

Atlanta decided not to draft a pass rusher last year, opting to build up the offensive line in the first round. This time, the Falcons may want to turn their attention to this group. Granted, the depth at the position was much greater last year compared to this year, but the front office’s philosophy remains to draft the best player at a position of need. If that happens to be a defensive end at No. 16, the Falcons could be inclined to pull the trigger.

Best draft-eligible edge rusher available: This is a no-brainer, assuming he declares. Of all the defensive ends potentially available, Ohio State’s Chase Young is the best at the position. His ability to get after the quarterback is unmatched, evidenced by his 16.5 sacks in 2019.

Edge rushers who could be there and would be worth taking at No. 16: Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, Alabama’s Terrell Lewis, Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara.

Second-day defensive end prospects: LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, Notre Dame’s Khalid Kareem, Florida’s Jonathan Greenard, Michigan’s Josh Uche, Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor.


While Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun will be back in 2020, De’Vondre Campbell’s future with the franchise is uncertain. Campbell said Monday that he hasn’t heard much about coming back on a new contract. If the Falcons decide to move on from Campbell due to salary cap concerns, that could make linebacker a potential first- or second-round possibility.

Losing Campbell certainly would hurt, considering he has been an integral part of the defense since his rookie season. For the second consecutive season, Campbell led the team in tackles, this time with 129.

Best draft-eligible linebacker available: Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons showed he has the skill set to do just about anything on the field. He showed prowess rushing the passer, defending the run and covering the slot. In 2019, Simmons has tallied 91 tackles, six sacks and three interceptions.

Linebacker who could be there and would be worth taking at No. 16: Simmons.

Second-day linebacker prospects: Wisconsin’s Zack Baun, Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, Oregon’s Troy Dye, LSU’s Patrick Queen.

Defensive tackle

Grady Jarrett is a game-wrecker and earned an overdue Pro Bowl invite after a spectacular individual season that saw him total 7.5 sacks. But once again there will be a need to pick up some players to rotate alongside him, depending on whether it’s a run or passing down.

Tyeler Davison and Jack Crawford are slated to be free agents, making this position group one to address. And honestly, even if Atlanta brings back Davison and Crawford, it’s still a position that could use another quality player.

Best draft-eligible defensive tackle available: Auburn’s Derrick Brown was quite the disruptor in college. At 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, he has the ideal blend of size and power along the interior front. If the Falcons wanted to go this route in the first round, he would make quite the exceptional pairing with Jarrett.

Defensive tackles who could be there and would be worth taking at No. 16: South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, Florida State’s Marvin Wilson.

Second-day defensive tackle prospects: Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike, Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore, Alabama’s Raekwon Davis, Missouri’s Jordan Elliott, Utah’s Leki Fotu.

Interior offensive line

A lot of what this position is dependent on is whether the Falcons make Alex Mack a cap casualty. If he’s back, the immediate need is left guard. If Atlanta makes the tough decision to part ways with Mack, then center jumps to perhaps the top of the list of team needs.

Regardless, the Falcons need an interior offensive lineman — whether it’s through the draft or free agency — who can play center and guard. Mack’s backup in 2019 was Wes Schweitzer, who also ended the year as the starting left guard. Although he’s a free agent, he looks to be a candidate to be re-signed.

Best draft-eligible interior offensive lineman available: If Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey declares for the draft, he probably will be the first interior lineman off the board. He also has a good chance to go in the first round, especially now that more guards and centers are going earlier than in previous years. Humphrey has a big frame as a guard or center, too, at 6-5 and 317 pounds.

Interior offensive linemen who could be there and would be worth taking at No. 16: Humphrey, LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry.

Second-day interior offensive lineman prospects: Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, Tennessee’s Trey Smith, Temple’s Matt Hennessy, Clemson’s John Simpson.


The need at safety has more to do with a post-2020 look at the Falcons. Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal (assuming his fifth-year option is executed) will be in the final years of their respective contracts next season. Damontae Kazee also will be in the final year of his rookie contract next season. The Falcons won’t be able to keep all three safeties in 2021 and possibly won’t be able to keep two.

Therefore, the need to grab one in this draft appears much more important than maybe initially thought.

Best draft-eligible safety available: LSU’s Grant Delpit seems like a perfect fit for this kind of defense. He can play both free safety and strong safety. His size at 6-2 and 206 pounds is ideal. His range at LSU has been exceptional throughout his career.

Safeties who could be there and would be worth taking at No. 16: Delpit, Alabama’s Xavier McKinney.

Second-day safety prospects: Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger, California’s Ashtyn Davis, Utah’s Terrell Burgess, Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr.

Secondary needs

Running back

Up against the salary cap, the Falcons can save $3.5 million by releasing Devonta Freeman, which would be tough from an organizational standpoint since owner Arthur Blank once declared him a “Falcon for life.” Freeman said Monday he wasn’t sure where he stood in the grand scheme of things but did mention he remains under contract.

Time will soon tell whether the Falcons keep his contract intact, restructure his deal, trade him or release him. If it’s either of the final two options, that could force the team to draft a running back for the fourth year in a row.

Best draft-eligible running back available: It almost seems like a travesty that Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor wasn’t a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He shouldn’t have won it over Joe Burrow or anything silly like that. But Taylor ran for 1,909 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2019, which followed two prior seasons that saw him rush for more than 1,900 yards (he totaled 2,194 rushing yards in 2018). Assuming Taylor declares, he figures to be the best at the position in this draft class.

Running back who could be there are worth taking at No. 16: Taylor.

Second-day running back prospects: Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Utah’s Zack Moss, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, Alabama’s Najee Harris, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin.


If Atlanta makes Desmond Trufant a cap casualty, it makes sense to address this position fairly early in the draft. If Atlanta holds on to Trufant, there probably isn’t a reason to select a corner in the early rounds. The Falcons should feel good about how Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver finished the season, which could either be a case for or against Trufant being on the roster in 2020.

A trio of Trufant, Sheffield and Oliver — with Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator — seemingly would make things problematic for opposing offenses. But Sheffield and Oliver could also man the outside corner positions in Atlanta’s base package, with someone else on a cheaper salary playing outside in nickel when Sheffield covers the slot. In this scenario, the Falcons almost certainly would need to draft a corner within their first four picks, all in the top 100, with how today’s pass-happy game is played.

Best draft-eligible cornerback available: For quite some time, Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah has been considered the top draft-eligible cornerback. Okudah has all the traits — good length, speed and instincts — to place him in the top 10 of this year’s draft. He concluded the 2019 season with three interceptions.

Cornerbacks who could be there are worth taking at No. 16: Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, LSU’s Kristian Fulton, Florida’s CJ Henderson.

Second-day cornerback prospects: Ohio State’s Damon Arnette, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, TCU’s Jeff Gladney, Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler.

Tight end

If the Falcons re-sign Austin Hooper, tight end isn’t an issue whatsoever. If they are unable to reach a long-term agreement and decide not to place the franchise tag on him, tight end becomes a glaring position of need. There are only two other tight ends on the Falcons’ roster at the moment — Jaeden Graham and Luke Stocker.

Dimitroff stated once again that Hooper will be a priority for the franchise this offseason.

Best draft-eligible tight end available: While he hasn’t declared yet, Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet has every tangible quality to make him the first tight end off the board in this year’s draft. Kmet has great size (6-6, 255 pounds) and great hands. His standout game this season came against Georgia when he caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Tight ends who could be there are worth taking at No. 16: Kmet.

Second-day tight end prospects: Washington’s Hunter Bryant, Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney, Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam, Dayton’s Adam Trautman.



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1 hour ago, falcon90 said:

Derrick Brown is very good but when I watched their bowl game he had to come out of the game quite a bit. He is a big boy so I get it but if we get brown we need to also develop some depth behind him and all our lineman for that matter. I’m also a huge fan of Harris from Bama. Good at catching the ball also.

Not a believer in the ____ is (position)-U, but Bama RBs are on such a HUGE roll lately. Henry, Ingraham, Jacobs (played a big role in me winning my fantasy league too).

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7 hours ago, TXAintsHater said:

Not a believer in the ____ is (position)-U, but Bama RBs are on such a HUGE roll lately. Henry, Ingraham, Jacobs (played a big role in me winning my fantasy league too).

Then we have UGA turning out Michel, Chubb, Gurley & Crowell in recent years...so Swift if he falls a tad to the 2nd

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 I hope td reads these threads, I have perfect 2020 draft , even he would  tap dance  too,    1.  pick 16  and  2.  pick 47   , trade up and take  wr. jerry jeudy , Alabama .. we prolly need one more good receiver  since sanu is gone ,   round 2 , pick 59,  drue chrisman , punter,  ohio state  ,  we will pen opponents down  inside 20  now , package  picks  3, 4  and a 7th    for   creed humpry, center  Oklahoma   , cause  mack is getting old an tired legs   , last  7th pick    ,  whatever pass rusher  is on the board   , ta da  !

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So he has Edge listed as our #1 need.

Chase Young getting all the love once again. But....

Did Chase Young show up against Clemson when it mattered most?

I kept saying to myself, where the heck is Chase Young?  I barely heard his name called?  I guess the Clemson Tackles owned him all game long is my guess. I actually forgot he was on Ohio States team.

Did he have any tackles?  Let alone sacks or TFL’s?  

All this hype but it’s troubling to watch him disappear when his team needed him the most.  That’s a red flag for me man.

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Antoine Winfield Jr. would be huge in the second round. He was a baller at Minnesota and a big reason for how well they played this year. Zack Baun is actually a pass rushing OLB(3-4), so he should move him to the pass rusher category. Looking at the list, the DL prospects are honestly quite weak this year. Outside of Young and Brown, I don’t really like any of them with a first round pick. If a LB or Safety is there, I don’t mind taking one. I wouldn’t hate taking a C either. 

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